On Growing Up

I heard a retort several weeks ago, probably months ago now, during an argument, or a vigorous discussion, which I couldn’t help but overhear as I unloaded my groceries into the back of my car. “Oh, grow up,” one contender spat at the other, and it got me thinking about the notion of growing up.
I have always been vertically challenged. In class photos in Elementary school, I was always the kid on one of the ends. Wendy Cross or Rita Seiders held down the other end, making us human bookends, with those of “normal” height lined up between us. I measured my height on the pantry door frame regularly and often, and the line moved with painfully slow progress. My dad assured me that good things come in small packages, but I wasn’t buying it. I wanted to be tall, or at the very least, taller. I thought that reaching maturity and becoming a grown-up was simply a matter of achieving altitude and sometimes larger feet, but neither were working in my favour. I have come to think differently about “growing up”.
Getting older and growing up are not the same thing; in fact, I would argue they are, in many ways, opposites of one another. Maya Angelou wrote a letter to a daughter she never had. In the letter she wrote, “I am convinced that most people do not grow up.”
I remember desperately aching to be thirteen, to have left some parts of childhood behind, galloping toward adulthood, or so I thought. Turning sixteen and acquiring a driver’s licence made winning the race seem possible, as did being of an age to vote, my dad insisting such a civic duty came with obligation and privilege and not to ever take it for granted. But through all those progressions and reaching those chronological achievements, I didn’t feel any different. Angelou went on to write in that same letter, “We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up.”
I had my first child when I was twenty-four years old and I remember feeling some embarrassment when the nurse brought “my daughter” to me. I felt a fraud, as though I was pretending to be a mother when I had no credentials to be considered one, no one gave me permission to stand should all mothers be called to attention. I remember fearing that someone would snatch my baby from my arms in those first hours and tell me they made a mistake and I wasn’t meant to have her. That feeling passed relatively quickly, but I remember it very clearly.
“I think what we do is mostly grow old,” Angelou wrote. “We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.” The answers to life’s conundrums weren’t any more clear or clear at all. I had no greater understanding of why people older than me behaved as they did, yet I had expected to know, had expected it all to come very clear by the time I reached sixty, as if the reward for sliding into home plate at the start of my seventh decade qualified me to have at least some insider information. But I continue to feel the same on the inside, even though the outside has changed dramatically.
“We may act sophisticated and worldly, but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do,” wrote Angelou. The world inside my head has all the precious memories gathered up and tucked safely away, and I am running along the shore of the Rainy River that hurried by my childhood home, the farm, and it is the only place I have ever really belonged.
wendistewart@live.ca

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